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The kiss featured in Roman social life in a number of guises and under several different names.


The mechanics of kissing

The ancient Roman had, it seems, a number of different ways to kiss. These did not precisely correspond to specific words but must be guessed at from scattered literary evidence.

Non-sexual kiss on the lips

One known example of this type of kiss, probably a very light kiss, was that given as a greeting by a woman to her male relatives. The same type of kiss was probably used for greetings between relatives and spouses in general,[1]

and perhaps also for expressions of affection on other occasions between such people.[2]

 Another is the osculum funebris.

As to the most pervasive form of social but non-sexual kissing, namely the kiss of friendship, affection, and respect that was exchanged almost invariably on greeting and at other times, the evidence seems to lean toward mouth-to-mouth kissing here too. First, if the practice did come from the east as has been suggested then the kisses may have been mouth-to-mouth, as they were among the Persians between men of equal status.[3]

 Similarly if social kissing among friends developed as an extension of kissing among relatives then that may also suggesting kissing on the lips (if it is correct, as suggested below, that kisses between relatives were such).  Two epigrams of Martial speak of such a kiss as being given "with half the lips".[4]

 This is a puzzling phrase itself, but one possible interpretation is that this is a kiss on the mouth which is not fully lined up, as it were, so that only half the kisser's mouth finds its target.[5]

 The same poet mentions people who are so fond of social kissing that they will insist on kissing even someone who has lips smeared with waxy ointment, which also suggests that it is the lips they are kissing.[6]

In fact, in view of the total absence of conclusive evidence of kissing on the cheeks or anywhere else on the face,[7]

we may perhaps tentatively conclude that all ordinary Roman kissing was mouth-to-mouth.

Non-sexual kiss on the cheeks

Kissing on the cheeks was certainly ordinary practice among the ancient Persians, and might be assumed, given the pervasive customs of modern Mediterranean cultures, to have been the ordinary sort of social kissing among the Romans. The difficult fact is, however, that there seems to be little or no direct evidence of this sort of kissing in any Roman source, and this silence must be set against considerable evidence that social kissing was often, and perhaps usually, mouth-to-mouth.

Kiss on the hand

Calpurnius Flaccus depicts a son kissing the hand of his father, apparently as a sign of respect and deference;[8]

similarly Tacitus mentions solderis kissing the hands of their commanders.[9]

 Kissing the hand appears as a sign of submission in Lucan,[10]

and is apparently seen as a slave-like gesture of obeisance.[11]

 Seneca mentions seeing people kissing the hands of other people's slaves, but the significance of the gesture is unclear.[12]

 He also writes of candidates in elections kissing the hands of voters in soliciting their votes, here again clearly a sign of deference.[13]

The deferential significance of this gesture is presumably part of the reason why it is sometimes associated with asking for mercy or forgiveness or for a favour.[14]

In Phaedrus a king's subjects kiss his hand, but the context is Greek and this may not reflect Roman practice.[15]

It may be significant that there is no evidence of this practice from the republican period, a less deferential era of Roman social history.

It may be from this use of the kiss that is derived the metaphorical use of 'to kiss' meaning 'to praise or express admiration for'.[16]

Kiss on the feet

One would expect this to be a more extreme obeisance than a kiss on the hand, and this seems to be confirmed by one of the very few references to the practice, when L. Piso is said to have kissed the feet of the judges during his trial.[17]

Throwing kisses

Martial writes of someone hearing loud acclamations and throwing kisses.[18]

 The same sort of thing is mentioned in Phaedrus.[19]

 It is not entirely clear what this involved, but the context suggests an analogy of the modern practice of stage performers by which, in response to applause, kisses are 'thrown' by placing the hands to the mouth and then flinging them outwards in the direction of the spectators.  This would also recall the physical gesture of adoratio.  At any rate it is evidently a gesture by which a performer acknowledges applause.

The same gesture may be referred to in another poem of Martial.[20]

 If so, then these kisses made a noise of some kind, perhaps the exaggerated smacking which often accompanies blown kisses.  But the kisses referred to may be of a different kind, such as romantic kisses.

Erotic kissing

It is not clear from the sources how different, in terms of its physical mechanics, a lovers' kiss was from kisses of other kinds. In most cases it seems to have been readily distinguishable,[21]

and Seneca says that "people kiss their mistress one way, their children another" ("Aliter homines amicam, aliter liberos osculantur"),[22]

but this could in some cases have more to do with the lovers' demeanour and other associated behaviour than with the nature of the kiss itself.  Other references seem to treat lovers' kisses and friendly kisses as more or less the same thing, but again these are not conclusive.[23]

 Most probably there was some, perhaps much, overlap, but there were also types of kisses which would never be exchanged between friends or relatives.[24]

It was probably ordinarily a mouth-to-mouth kiss, but other kinds are mentioned, for example kissing on the eyes, the neck, the face, the hair, the shoulder, the chest.[25]

 Indeed, the kisses exchanged by lovers were apparently very varied.  It seems that often they were quite brief, since enthusiasm is usually expressed by the number, not the duration, of the kisses.[26]

 But equally there are references to long and lingering kisses.[27]

 Often the emphasis is on the pressing together of the lips, suggesting a mouth more or less closed.[28]

 On the other hand, we hear of wet kisses, open-mouthed kisses, and the mingling of tongues.[29]

 Ovid, at any rate, appears to have preferred the latter kind, which he associates particularly with sex.[30]

 Martial appears to list qualities of a good kiss when he talks about Aegle who demands substantial gifts from her lovers "ne sint basia muta, ne maligna, ne clusis aditum neget labellis" ("so that her kisses will not be silent, nor scant, so that she will not deny your entry with closed lips").[31]

 Other indications that romantic kisses might not be silent may come in Martial, epigrammaton, 1.76.14, if indeed these are romantic kisses and not thrown ones, and Petronius, satyricon, 132.  Amorous kissing also seems often to have involved not only the pressing but also the biting of lips,[32]

or even the neck.[33]

Behaviour associated with kissing

Standing up and sitting down

One comment in Plautus appears to suggest that for a man to give a woman a romantic or erotic kiss while both were standing up implied shamelessness or lasciviousness on the part of the woman; the meaning of the comment is, however, rather unclear.[34]

 It was evidently perfectly possible also to kiss lasciviously while sitting down, at least when the woman is sitting in the man's lap.[35]

Taking by the ears

It seems that on some occasions (presumably especially when kissing on the mouth) the kisser would take the other participant "by the ears". This conjures a rather comical mental picture, but it may simply mean taking the other person's head in one's hands with one's fingers behind the ears (resting on the back of the head just above the neck) and one's thumbs in front (resting on the cheeks). It seems to have been done in both romantic and familial kissing.[36]

Taking by the hand

We hear of a wife taking her husband's hand when she gives him a kiss of greeting.[37]


The kiss of greeting or affection was sometimes accompanied with an embrace, or the putting of arms around the neck, at any rate between relatives.[38]

 Embraces were also common with romantic kissing.

Sexual behaviour

Romantic or erotic kissing might, unsurprisingly, be accompanied by embracing and caressing.[39]

 Kissing is mentioned as a type of romantic behaviour along with walking and reclining together.[40]

 In Plautus we find a man placing his hand on his lover's breasts, and under her clothes, while kissing her.[41]

 Similar caresses are associated with kissing in Ovid.[42]

 Interestingly (perhaps), Ovid values the kiss more highly than much other sexual play.[43]

Kissing is mentioned as a prelude or enticement to sex,[44]

and as an accompanying or associated activity,[45]

but was clearly regarded as less intimate or intense.[46]

 Ovid implies that particularly passionate kissing would normally happen only in bed.[47]


Kissing was evidently not incompatible with chatting, though presumably the two activites were pursued alternately and not simultaneously.[48]

In Petronius we find two drunken women exchanging kisses of non-sexual affection as they chat and giggle together at dinner.[49]

Occasions for kissing

The kiss has been identified as featuring in a number of distinct types of social interaction: greeting a relative; showing affection to a child; expressing sexual desire; greeting and taking leave of a friend; showing affection to a spouse; begging a favour; showing religious devotion; the funerary kiss; expressing thanks; marking a reconciliation; and giving congratulations.[50]

Some of these are discussed in detail below.  It should be observed that there is considerable overlap between these categories.

The ius osculi

The custom by which women greeted their male relatives, every day when she first saw them, with a kiss on the lips was firmly believed by the Romans to be a very ancient one, and may indeed be part of their Indo-European heritage.[51]

 It was evidently of sufficient antiquity that its origin and meaning had been completely lost by the historical period.

One common theory among the Romans was that in ancient times women had been forbidden to drink temetum (wine of first pressing) and that this kiss enabled a woman's male relatives to check, by the smell of her breath, whether she had been doing so.[52]

 This theory is almost certainly incorrect, but it gives a clue as to the nature of the kiss.[53]

 The idea was that the kiss allowed the kisser to smell the wine, not to taste it: the kiss was therefore probably light, perhaps barely a touch.[54]

This customary kiss was exchanged between a woman and her male relatives only up to the sixth degree.[55]

 Most sources say that it applied only to blood relatives, and Plutarch links it with the degree of relationship within which marriage was forbidden.[56]

 Some sources, however, say that it also applied to the sixth-degree blood-relatives of the woman's husband, which would make sense given the link with marriage since in Roman law marriage was also prohibited between former relatives-in-law.[57]

 That it was, or could be, considered improper for a woman to kiss a man outside this circle of relatives seems to be confirmed by Valerius Maximus' story of P. Maenius, who put to death his freedman for kissing his (Maenius') unmarried daughter.[58]

 It is not clear from the sources whether the male relatives entitled to give this kiss of greeting included the woman's husband himself, but there is more than ample evidence of men kissing their wives, so this must be presumed either as part of the rule or as an understood exception to it.

The custom persisted throughout the republic and well into the imperial era.[59]

 A fragment from Cicero indicates that at some time before his own lifetime (and perhaps still in his time too) if a woman became "famosa" ("infamous") her relatives might express their disapproval by refusing to kiss her, effectively disowning her as a relative.[60]

Other greeting and leave-taking between relatives

There are many references to kisses of greeting between close relatives of both sexes, and it was clearly very normal, and indeed expected, for fathers and mothers to kiss their children of both sexes.[61]

 It is not clear how kisses of this kind relate to the carefully regulated kiss of the ius osculi.  In all likelihood the type of kiss (namely a light kiss on the mouth) and its social function are identical.  The reason why a specific rule existed only in relation to kisses of greeting between men and women is presumably the danger of misunderstanding or mischief which would arise if distant relatives or mere friends of opposite sexes were permitted by custom to kiss one another in greeting.

The same is probably true of kisses upon parting.[62]

Greeting and leave-taking between lovers and spouses

A kiss was also the usual greeting and leave-taking between a husband and wife.[63]

 Since spouses are both relatives and lovers the question arises whether this kiss was the same as other, entirely non-sexual, kisses of greeting, or whether it was a kiss of a more erotic kind.  There seems to be no decisive evidence, but the former is more likely for three reasons.  First, Romans appear to have disapproved of erotic kissing in public, and certainly these kisses of greeting between spouses were often public.[64]

 Secondly, the earliest sources use the word osculum rather than savium, for this type of kiss.[65]

 Thirdly, some sources seem to refer to kisses of greeting between spouses and between parents and children in the same breath, implying that they are interchangeable.[66]

If it is correct that this was an ordinary kiss of greeting, there is the further question whether it was of the kind exchanged between blood-relatives or of that between friends (if indeed there was a difference). Again the former seems more likely.[67]

Unmarried lovers seem to have kissed on greeting and taking their leave as well, and even these kisses may well have been merely of the friendly or familial kind.[68]

Greeting and leave-taking between friends and acquaintances

It was common, at least by the late republican period, for men to exchange kisses of friendship when greeting each other.[69]

 The younger Pliny praised the emperor Trajan for his egalitarian, un-emperor-like behaviour, and several times these praises include mention of kisses of greeting and leave-taking between the emperor and members of the senatorial class.[70]

 This seems to indicate that it was a greeting exchanged between equals;[71]

a similar implication is found in Suetonius.[72]

 To greet someone with a kiss was evidently a public signal of friendship, and to refuse a kiss could likewise be a sign of enmity.[73]

 The practice seems also to have applied among female friends.[74]

There are also references to kisses of leave-taking between friends,[75]

and it seems to have been expected at least when the departure was for a significant journey.[76]

It has been suggested that the practice was imported to Rome from the kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean in the Augustan period, and that it was initially confined to the nobility.[77]

 This cannot be quite right, for clear references to such amicable kisses in Catullus and Cicero show that it was well established, at least among the nobiles, by the last generation of the republic.[78]

 It is true that there are no clear earlier references, but in view of the paucity of sources for Roman social life before Cicero and the lyric poets this is not conclusive; and social kissing may have developed as easily as an extension of indigenous Roman kissing among relatives (just as kinship terms were extended to metaphorical use among friends) as from the Persian practice.[79]

 A few references in Martial do seem to suggest that social kissing was something of a fad in his day, but it can hardly have been new by then even if it had been new in Cicero's time;[80]

perhaps what was happening in Martial's time was an increase in the frequency of the habit or a broadening of the number of people it was normal to greet in this way (for some of the people he is complaining about appear to be almost complete strangers).  The idea that social kissing began with the nobility and later spread down the social ladder is plausible but neither strictly necessary nor particularly helpful in order to make sense of Pliny, historia naturalis, 26.3.[81]

Martial seems to have regarded giving kisses of greeting with cold lips as highly inconsiderate, and evidently expected his readers to sympathize.[82]

 He also frequently complains of others' bad breath, as do other authors: in days of poor oral hygiene this must have been a common problem.[83]

Spontaneous expression of joy

In Plautus, Casina, 430-440, a steward tells his elderly master that he has arranged for him to see the object of his affections later than day. The old man declares that he is so delighted he can hardly hold back from kissing the steward;[84]

in the event he contents himself with embracing him.  This appears to be very much the same phenomenon as the modern western one expressed by the saying "I'm so happy I could kiss you".

Another example, though this time between a husband and wife, is found in Ovid.[85]

Expression of romantic and sexual love

Kissing was a common way to express romantic affection and sexual desire. Naturally this was generally done in private and often as part of more general sexual behaviour,[86]

but it is sometimes also found in a social context.  A line in Plautus suggests that it would not have been improper for a man to kiss his girlfriend while reclining with her at a dinner-party with other guests present.[87]

 Cicero, on the other hand, implies that for the reputation of an aristocratic woman would be badly damaged by kissing at parties; but he may be thinking of a woman who kisses various different men.[88]

Like other people, lovers seem often to have given each other kisses at greeting and saying goodbye.[89]

Expression of affection and respect

Kisses between close relatives and between friends often express pietas (a sense of love, respect, and dutifulness).[90]

 An ambiguous passage of Ovid seems to suggest that it was perfectly proper for a brother and sister to kiss, but not too often.[91]

We also hear of kisses of affection being given to babies not only by their relatives but by friends of their parents.[92]

 Ovid even describes Paris, when a guest of Menelaus, giving the latter's daughter Hermione kisses on the lips.[93]

 According to tradition, Hermione was about nine years old at this time, and since Paris was not related to Menelaus or even particularly friendly with him this seems rather surprising and should perhaps not be taken as a reflection of Roman practice.

In Petronius we find two drunken women exchanging kisses of non-sexual affection as they chat and giggle together at dinner;[94]

and Propertius refers to Cynthia sleeping with and kissing a female friend (in a manner which, in the context, can only be non-sexual).[95]

A more formal instance of the kiss as a sign of respect is found in the younger Pliny,[96]

who describes himself being embraced and kissed by many senators who approved of his actions.  This seems to fall into the category of an occasional expression of respect and admiration rather than that of the more regular kiss of greeting.

Entreaties and apologies

There are examples of kisses, and indeed embraces, forming part of strenuous entreaties or requests, especially between close relatives.[97]

 This is probably a particular application of the general use of kisses to display pietas: the one to whom the request is addressed is reminded by the kiss of his close bond to the petitioner.

Kissing the feet seems to have been a gesture of entreaty or apology,[98]

and also in the context of entreaty we find the kissing of hands and knees.[99]

Congratulation and commiseration

We hear of kisses of congratulation between friends and relatives,[100]

and also of commiseration.[101]


An affectionate kiss could be used to reassure a troubled relative.[102]

 Statius has a man kiss his wife's cheeks to dry her tears, and another do the same for his daughter.[103]

For payment

Martial relates the amusing but apparently unusual case of a courtesan who used to give (evidently erotic rather than friendly) kisses in exchange for gifts or gold.[104]

 Apuleius implies that insincere kisses were available in brothels, but these seem to be as inducements to further business rather than as transactions in themselves.[105]

Medicinal uses

The practice of 'kissing it better' was not unknown to the Romans, though perhaps only between lovers.[106]

Kissing inanimate objects and animals

Romans sometimes expressed their love, respect, or veneration for inanimate objects by kissing them. A common example was kissing the ground, usually of the homeland.[107]

 This is probably an extension of the use of kisses to express pietas.[108]

In some cases a kiss expresses religious devotion.[109]

 The common practice of adoratio involved kissing one's fingers and then touching them to a temple, statue, or other sacred object.  This practice is still found in some Mediterranean cultures.  Another example may be when the diners in Petronius' satyricon, scared by various ghost-stories, kiss the dining-table and ask the nocturnal spirits to let them go home in peace.[110]

 A related sentiment seems to lie behind two instances in Apuleius of kissing an object in the wish that it will have a desired effect.[111]

On other occasions, kissing an object expresses love or respect not for the object itself but for a person for whom it acts as surrogate. A most obvious example is the statue of the deceased statue of Germanicus that Augustus used to kiss.[112]

 We also find that a lover who cannot gain entrance to his girlfriend's room might kiss the door.[113]

Some kisses given to inanimate objects are more puzzling. In Plautus' play Mostellaria (265) the young courtesan Philematium, who has been getting ready to meet her lover, gives her mirror a kiss (savium) before handing it back to her slave. It is far from clear why she does this. The context gives no suggestion that it was a strange thing to do, or something which demands explanation. On the other hand, perhaps this is included simply for a laugh, or to show Philematium's vanity, or to set up the joke in the following line.

Seneca indicates that the keepers of tigers (and probably other wild animals) might kiss them; this is used to illustrate the docility of the animal, and may imply that it was normal to kiss more ordinary pets.[114]


When paying a formal morning call (usually upon one's patron), or salutatio, it was customary to kiss one's host.[115]

 The nature of the kiss is unclear: the elder Pliny calls it a "brief passing-by" ("veloci transitu"), though the context of his comment implies that there was physical contact.[116]


There is some evidence for an archaic custom, probably no longer observed in classical times, of kissing a dying person on the mouth in order to catch his last breath.[117]

We also hear of kisses given to deceased or dying relatives, lovers, and friends, probably as expressions of affection just as if they were alive.[118]

 Some writers even conjure the dramatic image of grieving friends or relatives kissing the wounds of their dead.[119]

Words for kissing

Latin has three words for 'kiss': osculum, savium, and basium.

It is sometimes said that these correspond to three different types of kiss. This idea indeed derives from Roman writers.[120]

 Examination of the actual use of these three words in Roman literature shows, however, that this is a misleading idea.  The meanings and uses of each word are discussed below.


The word "osculum" is perhaps the oldest Latin word for 'kiss', and was originally a diminutive meaning 'little mouth'. Its origin seems to be in phrases such as "oscula iungere" ("join little mouths together") and "oscula figere" ("press little mouths"); by about Template:-200 the expression seems to have been simplified to "osculum dare" ("give a little mouth") or "osculum ferre" ("bring a little mouth"), and soon "osculum" came to mean the kiss itself.[121]

This suggests that an osculum was originally a kiss on the mouth, probably with closed ("little") mouths. In the middle republican period it may have broadened its meaning somewhat, but it still usually meant a friendly or non-passionate kiss, as opposed to a savium.[122]

 By contrast, the verb "osculari" ("to kiss") was commonly used of all kinds of kiss including savia.[123]

By the late republic the word "osculum" could, it seems, be used for a kiss of passion as well as a kiss of friendly or familial affection.[124]

 Similarly "savium" had encroached on the traditional territory of the osculum.[125]

 In the Augustan period and beyond we find the word "osculum" used to refer to any and all kisses, and remained thereafter the broadest and most generic word for a kiss.[126]

Throughout the Roman era the word "osculum", whatever its meaning, was a relatively neutral word, quite acceptable in all registers of language and all styles of writing and, we may safely assume, conversation.[127]


Roman and modern scholars agree that the word "savium" was derived from the adjective "suavis" ("pleasant-tasting").[128]

 In the earliest Latin literature the word is used exclusively in a low register and in a sexual context.[129]

 This may indicate that the word at this period denoted a different, more erotic, type of kiss.  It is possible, however, there was no clear distinction between the physical act or even the emotional motive of a suavium and an osculum.  The difference may be simply that savium was a less polite, more suggestive word for something which could just as easily be called an osculum.[130]

By the time of Cicero the word had become much more generalized. Cicero himself, usually rather conservative in his vocabulary, quite happily uses savium when he asks his friend Atticus to give his little daughter a kiss from him,[131]

and refers to L. Brutus kissing his mother as savianda.[132]

 Varro distinguishes between an osculum and a savium on purely etymological grounds and adds that they are "similar"; and Catullus seems to use savium indiscriminately.[133]

As often happens when a less common word comes to mean the same thing as a more common word, "savium" largely dropped out of use after the end of the republic, being replaced by "basium".[134]


With the broadening of the meaning of "savium" there appeared a gap in the market for a word specifically designating a lovers' kiss, and the gap was filled by "basium". This word seems to have been introduced into literature, and perhaps even invented, by Catullus.[135]

In Catullus a "basium" always has this connotation, but in later literature it shared something of the fate of "savium": it came to cover not only erotic kisses but kisses of friendly greeting and of familial affection.[136]

 It seems, however, to have retained a rather low-register, slangy flavour, for it was never taken up by more formal writers of verse or prose and was used largely by those whose writing was conversational in tone; it also remained the most common word for the passionate kiss.[137]


  1. Ovid, heroides, 16.255-256, mentions Helen kissing her daughter Hermione on the mouth frequently.
  2. Seneca, consolatio ad Marciam, 3.2, refers to a mother kissing her dying son apparently on the lips, though this may be an osculum funebris.
  3. Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), p.96. Between men of different status the kiss was on the cheeks.
  4. "dimidio... labro": epigrammaton, 2.10; 2.22.
  5. The significance of this kiss is discussed in Martial, Epigrams: Book Two (ed., trans., & comm. Williams, C.A., Oxford University Press, 2004), pp.55-57.
  6. Epigrammaton, 11.98.6.
  7. That the ordinary social kiss was somewhere on the face is shown by Pliny, historia naturalis, 26.3.
  8. Calpurnius Flaccus, declamationes, 10.
  9. Tacitus, annales, 1.34; historiae, 1.45.
  10. Pharsalia, 2.114.
  11. Tacitus, historiae, 1.36.
  12. Seneca, epistulae morales, 5.47.13.
  13. Seneca, epistulae morales, 20.118.3.
  14. Apuleius, metamorphoses, 2.28; 4.26.
  15. Fabulae, 5.1.5.
  16. Gellius, noctes Atticae, 1.23.12; 2.26.20; Seneca, controversiae, 1.2.17.
  17. Valerius Maximus, 8.1.abs.6.
  18. "Audieris cum grande sophos, dum basia iactas": epigrammaton, 1.3.7. In fact it is not a person but a book apostrophized as a person: but clearly the behaviour is meant to be human.
  19. Fabulae, 5.7.28: "In plausus consurrectum est. Iactat basia tibicen; gratulari fautores putat." ("There is a standing ovation. The flute-player throws kisses; he thinks the fans are thanking him.").
  20. Epigrammaton, 1.76.14: "at circum pulpita nostra et steriles cathedras basia sola crepant" ("but around our stages and empty chairs only kisses sound").
  21. In Plautus' miles gloriosus (especially lines 176 onward) a woman's illicit liaison is discovered when someone oversees her giving her lover an evidently unambiguous kiss. See also Ovid, amores, 2.5.25-26, and metamorphoses, 4.334-335.
  22. Seneca, epistulae morales, 9.75.3.
  23. Horace, carmina, 1.36, describes a man returning from a long journey and giving kisses to all his companions but reserving the largest number for a particular special girl, which seems to suggest a difference of quantity but not of quality; Ovid, throughout metamorphoses, 9.454-665, plays on the ambiguity between sisterly and passionate kisses, and implies that they could, at least to outside observers, seem the same: 9.539, 9.560; Propertius, 2.6.8, seems to say that Cynthia has frequently been seen kissing other men and has excused herself by saying that they are her relatives with the ius osculi.
  24. Martial, epigrammaton, 11.104.9-10 clearly indicates a qualitative difference between "basia... blandas imitata columbas" ("kisses... like fondling doves") and "basia... aviae qualia mane soles" ("kisses... such as you give your grandmother in the morning").
  25. On the eyes: Plautus, Casina, 136; Catullus, 48.1-2; 9.9; 45.11-12. The neck: Horace, carmina, 2.12; Suetonius, Gaius, 33. The face: Ovid, metamorphoses, 4.141 (though this may not be typical since one party is deceased); fasti, 3.509. The hair: Ovid, ex Ponto, 1.4.50 (though this may not be an amorous kiss); Propertius, 2.18b.14. The shoulder: Ovid, ars amatoria, 3.310. The chest: Petronius, satyricon, 113; Suetonius, Nero, 34.2.
  26. For example, Plautus, truculentus, 373; Catullus, 5.7-9; 7.1; 7.9; 48.3; Ovid, amores, 2.11.45-46; heroides, 18.115.
  27. Ovid, heroides, 2.94; Tibullus, 1.8.25-26.
  28. Plautus, Bacchides, 480; Catullus, 99; Lucretius, de rerum natura, 4.1079-1081; Ovid, heroides, 2.94; Martial, epigrammaton, 6.34.1 ("basia pressa" suggests both that the kisses involve the pressing of the lips and also that they come thick and fast); 11.22.1-2 (male lovers).
  29. Open mouths are explicit in Gellius, as is the passing of breath between them: noctes Atticae, 19.11.4. There is also Catullus, 78b.3: "purae pura puellae suavia comminxit spurca saliva tua" ("your impure saliva defiled the pure kisses of a pure girl", although it could mean "your impure taste..."); Lucretius, de rerum natura, 4.1194: "assuctis umectans oscula labris" ("moistening [his] kisses with sucked lips"). Tongues: Ovid, amores, 2.5.24; 3.7.9; 3.7.48; heroides, 15.129; Tibullus, 1.8.37-38.
  30. Amores, 2.5.57-61.
  31. Epigrammaton, 12.55.9-10.
  32. Catullus, 8.18; 68.127; Horace, carmina, 1.13.12-16; Lucretius, de rerum natura, 4.1079-1081.
  33. Tibullus, 1.8.38.
  34. Plautus, Stichus, 764-765: "Prostibilest tandem? Stantem stanti savium dare amicum amicae?" ("Like a prostitute? A standing man giving his standing girlfriend a kiss?").
  35. Plautus, Bacchides, 477-480.
  36. Romantic: Plautus, asinaria, 668 ("prehende auriculis, compara labella cum labellis" ("take me by the ears, match my lips with your lips")). Familial: Tibullus, 2.5.92 ("natusque parenti oscula comprensis auribus eripiet" ("and the child, taking hold of his father by the ears, shall pluck a kiss")).
  37. Plautus, Amphitruo, 715-716: "salutavi et valuissesne usque exquisivi simul, mi vir, et manum prehendi et osculum tetuli tibi" ("I greeted you and at the same time asked you whether you were still well, my husband, and took your hand and gave you a kiss").
  38. Cicero, de re publica, 6.14 (father and son); Ovid, metamorphoses, 6.480.
  39. Plautus, asinaria, 687; mercator, 745; miles gloriosus, 245; 320; 507; 534; 1433; Casina, 453; truculentus, 924; Terence, heauton timorumenos, 900.
  40. Plautus, Bacchides, 896-897.
  41. Bacchides, 477-480.
  42. Ovid, amores, 1.4.35-38; 3.7.48-49.
  43. Amores, 1.4.38.
  44. "inlecebram stupri": Plautus, Casina, 887; compare Ovid, amores, 1.4.63; ars amatoria, 1.669-671; Petronius, satyricon, 127.
  45. Horace, epodes, 3.21; Lucretius, de rerum natura, 4.1192-1194; Tibullus, 1.8.25-26; Martial, epigrammaton, 11.22.1-4.
  46. Martial, epigrammaton, 8.46.
  47. Amores, 2.5.57-61.
  48. Plautus, Mercator, 745; Ovid, metamorphoses, 10.559; ars amatoria, 1.663.
  49. Petronius, satyricon, 67.
  50. Listed by Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), p.89, summarizing the conclusions of Kroll, W., Realencyclopedie Supplementum V, 511-520.
  51. The antiquity of the custom: Festus on the term "osculana pugna". The Indo-European origin: Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), pp.95-96.
  52. This theory first heard from Cato, quoted in Pliny, historia naturalis, 14.14.90, and also in Gellius, noctes Atticae, 10.23; repeated by Plutarch, quaestiones Romanae, 6, among others.
  53. The reasons for doubting the theory are given by Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), p.95.
  54. "an temetum olerent" ("whether they smelled of wine"): Pliny, historia naturalis, 14.14.90; "ut odor indicium faceret" ("so that the smell might give a clue"): Gellius, noctes atticae, 10.23.1; "ut spiritu iudicarentur" ("so that they might be judged by their breath"): Tertullian, apologeticum, 6.5.
  55. Polybius, quoted in Athenaeus, 10.56; see also Plutarch, quaestiones Romanae, 6, which does not specify the degree but links it with the degree of relationship within which marriage was forbidden, which was the sixth degree in archaic Rome.
  56. "Cognatos": Festus on the term "osculana pugna"; "cognatis": Gellius, noctes atticae, 10.23.1; "cognati": Cicero, de re publica, 4.6.6. The link with marriage: Plutarch, quaestiones Romanae, 6.
  57. Polybius, quoted in Athenaeus, 10.56; Arnobius, adversus nationes, 2.67.3 ("adfinibus").
  58. Valerius Maximus, 6.1.4, saying, "tam tristi exemplo praecepit ut non solum virginitatem inlibatam, sed etiam oscula ad virum sincera perferret" ("by so doleful a demonstration he instructed her to bring to her husband not only her untarnished virginity but even her unadulterated kisses"). Valerius himself seems to think that this is a bit of an over-reaction to a mere kiss, but Apuleius seems to take the same view in regarding a woman's acceptance of kisses as an act of infidelity (metamorphoses, 7.11): perhaps it depends on the manner of kissing.
  59. Livy, 1.9.56, both assumes that sons would have greeted their mother with kisses in the time of the kings and also implies that this was very much still expected in Livy's own time; Propertius, 2.6.8, has Cynthia explaining away her kissing of various men by claiming they are relatives with the ius osculi.
  60. Cicero, de re publica, 4.6.6. The quotation is in the imperfect tense ("osculum non ferebant") but the quotation is missing its context and once cannot be sure that the imperfect is meant to exclude the present.
  61. For example, Plautus, Epidicus, 570-575 (mother and daughter); Ovid, metamorphoses, 4.222 (mother and daughter); Stichus, 89-92 (father and daughters); Tibullus, 2.5.92 (father and son); Cicero, de divinatione, 1.46 (father and daughter); Livy, 1.9.56 (mother and son); Martial, epigrammaton, 11.104.10 (granddaughter and grandmother)
  62. Ovid, tristia, 1.3.58 (probably relatives, though this is not specified); metamorphoses, 6.505 (father and daughter); Seneca, Medea, 2.2.289 (mother and sons).
  63. For example, Plautus, Amphitruo, 716; 800; Lucretius, de rerum natura, 3.894-896; Ovid, heroides, 3.14.
  64. Discomfort about public erotic kissing, e.g. Plautus, Stichus, 764-765; according to Plutarch, Cato major, 17.7, M. Cato even disapproved of hugging in public. Public kisses of greeting between spouses, e.g. Plautus, Amphitruo, 800 (outside the door of the house).
  65. See discussion above.
  66. Lucretius, de rerum natura, 3.894-896.
  67. This is again implied by Lucretius, de rerum natura, 3.894-896.
  68. An example in Ovid, metamorphoses, 4.75-80.
  69. Petronius, satyricon, 11 is one example among many.
  70. Pliny the younger, panegyricus, 23; 24; 71.
  71. In one passage (panegyricus, 24) Pliny says "nec osculum manu reddis" ("nor do you repay a kiss with your hand"), which in the context seems to contrast a greeting by a kiss, as between equals, with a greeting by the hand, as between an emperor and a subject; it is not clear, however, what exactly was involved in the latter type of greeting. The same contrast seems to be drawn in Martial, epigrammaton, 2.21.
  72. Suetonius, Vitellius, 7.3; Nero, 13.2.
  73. Catullus, 79.4; Cicero, pro Sestio, 52.111; Seneca, de ira, 2.24.1. Similarly a kiss could signify the reconciliation of former enemies: Petronius, satyricon, 99.
  74. Petronius, satyricon, 67.
  75. Ovid, tristia, 3.5.16.
  76. Suetonius, Tiberius, 10.2.
  77. Martial, Epigrams: Book Two (ed., trans., & comm. Williams, C.A., Oxford University Press, 2004), p.56.
  78. Catullus, 79.4; Cicero, pro Sestio, 52.111.
  79. On the extended use of kinship terms, Dickey, E., Latin Forms Of Address: From Plautus To Apuleius (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp.116-128.
  80. Martial, epigrammaton, 11.98, and perhaps 7.95 and 12.59.
  81. Pliny says that the disease, transmitted by face-to-face contact, spread only among the nobiles and not among women, slaves, or the lower classes, and that it was transmitted by the brief contact of kissing. From the structure of the sentence Pliny appears to mean that it was not transmitted to women or the lower classes because it was transmitted by kissing, but this plainly makes no sense since we know that in this period women kissed their husbands and male relatives, and each other. It may be that Pliny is in fact simply putting two unrelated pieces of information in the same sentence: the disease did not affect women or the lower classes, and it was transmitted by kissing. It therefore does not prove that the poor did not kiss, any more than it proves that women did not kiss.
  82. Epigrammaton, 7.95.
  83. For example, Petronius, satyricon, 128.
  84. "ita me di bene ament, ut ego vix reprimo labra ob istanc rem quin te deosculer, voluptas mea" (434-435).
  85. Heroides, 17.161.
  86. For associated romantic and sexual behaviour see above.
  87. Bacchides, 139-140.
  88. Cicero, pro Caelio, 49.
  89. Greeting: Plautus, truculentus, 356. Saying goodbye: Plautus, Curculio, 210.
  90. Horace, carmina, 3.5 (husband and wife); Cornelius Nepos, Atticus, 22.2 (relatives by marriage); Ovid, tristia, 3.5.16 (friends); metamorphoses, 4.334-335 (sisters); metamorphoses, 6.278 (mother and sons); 8.210 (father and son); heroides, 16.255-256 (mother and daughter); fasti, 5.411 (pupil and teacher); Lucan, Pharsalia, 4.180 (friends). That brothers might be expected to kiss is implied by Statius, Thebaide, 3.151.
  91. Metamorphoses, 9.458.
  92. Ovid, ex Ponto, 2.3.72.
  93. Heroides, 16.255-256.
  94. Petronius, satyricon, 67.
  95. Propertius, 2.6.11-12.
  96. Pliny, Epistulae, 9.13.21
  97. Livy, 23.9 (father and son); Cornelius Nepos, Atticus, 22.2 (son-in-law and father-in-law).
  98. Ovid, ars amatoria, 2.534.
  99. Apuleius, metamorphoses, 2.28 (hands and knees); 4.26 (hand).
  100. Ovid, ex Ponto, 4.9.13.
  101. Ovid, tristia, 3.5.16.
  102. Ovid, metamorphoses, 10.362 (father and daughter).
  103. Statius, Thebaide, 2.355; 3.711.
  104. Martial, epigrammaton, 12.55.
  105. Apuleius, metamorphoses, 10.21.
  106. Petronius, satyricon, 98.
  107. Livy, 1.9.56; Horace, carmina, 3.5; Ovid, metamorphoses, 1.376; 3.24.
  108. Livy, 1.9.56, makes the explicit link between the kiss of greeting between a son and his mother and kissing the earth as the universal mother.
  109. Livy, 45.4.44; Apuleius, metamorphoses, 11.17.
  110. Petronius, satyricon, 64.
  111. Apuleius, metamorphoses, 4.11 (kissing a sword before killing oneself); 3.24 (kissing a casket of ointment before rubbing oneself with the contents).
  112. Suetonius, Gaius, 7.
  113. Lucretius, de rerum natura, 4.1179. Another example is kissing the clothes of a departed lover: Ovid, heroides, 19.31.
  114. Seneca, epistulae morales, 11-13.85.41.
  115. Martial, epigrammaton, 12.26.1-4.
  116. Pliny, historia naturalis, 26.3.
  117. Johnston, H.W., The Private Life of the Romans (1932), 478; Seneca, consolatio ad Marciam, 3.2, may perhaps be an example, but is more likely merely a mother giving kisses of affection to her dying son.
  118. For example, Ovid, metamorphoses, 4.141 (lovers); 6.278 (mother and sons); 9.504 (brother and sister); Tibullus, 1.1.62 (lovers); Seneca, consolatio ad Marciam, 3.2.
  119. Statius, Thebaide, 12.27; Tacitus, historiae, 2.49.
  120. For example, Donatus, in Terentii Eunucho, 456.1; Servius, ad Vergilii Aeneide, 1.256.
  121. "Oscula iungere" is found in Ovid, metamorphoses, 2.357; 2.430. "Oscula figere": Ovid, metamorphoses, 3.24; 4.141. Though Ovid wrote in the classical period, he was probably here using archaic phrases in keeping with the style of the poems. Plautus, using language closer to the conversational idiom of his own time, uses "osculum dare" (Epidicus, 571) and "osculum ferre" (Amphitruo, 716). See generally Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), p.90.
  122. Indeed in Plautus an osculum is almost always a kiss of greeting: between husband and wife (Amphitruo, 716; 800), between father and his daughters (Stichus, 89-92), and between mother and daughter (Epidicus, 570-575). It does also appear once as a kiss from a young man to his lover (Truculentus, 102), but here again it may be a kiss of greeting. The word is not found in surviving works of Terence, Lucilius, or their predecessors.
  123. Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), pp.91-92.
  124. Kiss of passion (between lovers of the same or opposite sexes): Catullus, 68.127; Lucretius, de rerum natura, 4.1081; 4.1179; 4.1194; Tibullus, 1.1.63; 1.4.54; 1.8.26; 1.8.38; 1.8.58; 1.9.78. The word is also used of a kiss of religious adoration: Tibullus, 1.2.86. But still often with the original meaning: a kiss of affection and / or greeting from a man to his friend's young daughter (Cicero, ad Atticum, 12.1); kisses of greeting between a man and his wife and children (Lucretius, de rerum natura, 3.895); kiss of affection from a child to his father (Tibullus, 2.5.92).
  125. See notes below on savium.
  126. Various examples cited by Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), pp.93-94.
  127. Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), pp.91-94.
  128. The etymology is first recorded in Varro, quoted by Nonius, 424, 15: "ideo hoc ab ore dicitur osculum, non a suavitate, unde, quod simile est, savium" ("therefore it is called osculum from os, not from suavitas, from which comes savium, which is similar"). "Suavium" is an alternative form of the word. For discussion of the etymology see Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), pp.90-91.
  129. Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), p.92, especially note 23.
  130. This is the view of Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), who says at p.92 that "la materfamilias Artémone désigne par osculari ce que son mari, s'adressant à une courtisane, appelle savium dare " ("the materfamilias Artemona calls osculari what her husband, when speaking to a prostitute, calls savium dare"). Arguably, however, Moreau overstates the case. The verb "osculari", which is used in the passage he cites (Plautus, Asinaria, 891-2), seems always to have been broader in meaning than the noun "osculum". In Plautus there is, however, a very clear distinction between osculum and savium: an osculum is overwhelmingly - perhaps invariably - a friendly kiss of greeting; a savium is always sexual but not always unequivocally associated with the seedy world of prostitution (in Curculio, 55-60, although the girl mentioned is the slave of a pimp the whole point of Phaedromus' speech is to emphasize that she is not a prostitute and is on the contrary entirely chaste - why then would he use a lewd or low-register word?).
  131. Cicero, ad Atticum, 16.11.8.
  132. Cicero, Brutus, 14.53.
  133. Varro, quoted in Nonius, 424, 15; for Catullus see Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), p.93 with note 27.
  134. An instance of savium, in its sexual connotation, after the republic is Horace, epodes, 3.21.
  135. On the uncertain origins of "basium" see Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), p.91.
  136. A friendly greeting in Martial, 2.10.1; between husband and wife in Martial, 7.95.7; from son to father in Fronto, ad M. Caesarem, 2.4.2 (in the form of the verb "basiare").
  137. Moreau, P., Osculum, Basium, Savium (Revue de Philologie 52 (1978), pp.87-97), pp.93-94.

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